Xinjiang China snow leopard project expands

April 11, 2010

Philip Riordan, Xinjiang China Snow Leopard Project

The Xinjiang Snow Leopard Project team is back in China – and they’ve expanded their work from just Xinjiang province to across China, a very big task and we wish them luck!

The project has been running for a few years and is headed up by Philip Riordan, senior researcher at Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. Philip says in his blog “ we’re being encouraged by the Chinese authorities to include other provinces in our project.  Kun and I paid a visit to Sichuan in the summer and were delighted to find signs of snow leopard in Wolong Biosphere Reserve and giant panda hang-out. We have support from the local forestry administration and hope to survey areas on the eastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in the coming winter, so expect more boring discussion of warm clothing and ice! Excitingly, the Sichuan Forestry Administration have taken some photos of snow leopards using remote camera traps and I hope to be able to post these up soon.”

Snow leopard photographed by the Xinjiang China Snow Leopard Project in Wolong Nature Reserve, China.

What I especially like about Philip’s approach is his empathy with the local community as well as the endangered cats he’s researching and trying to save. Commenting on a recent prosecution in Xinjiang of two farmers accused of killing a snow leopard Philip says, “These are farmers from a very poor community, trying to protect their family interests and stop a snow leopard taking their livestock. Hard line conservationists will view any illegal killing of endangered wildlife as a serious and punishable crime. Legislation in China, and other countries, to protect endangered species enshrine this principle, but less than hard-liners hope that court systems will allow for some sensitivity.

Xinjiang province, China, bordering on Tibet. Wikipedia map.

“We need sensitivity, because the people living and working with snow leopards and other dangerous or damaging wildlife hold the solution to their protection. In an ever increasingly crowded world, we cannot separate people from these animals, so we must find ways to ensure that vulnerable communities are not disadvantaged by the goals of conservation.”

This is an exciting project and you can catch more about how its going on Philip’s blog here.


Good news from UN meeting on illegal wildlife trade

March 23, 2010

We can be cautiously optimistic about news from Doha in Qatar where the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has been meeting. Seems an agreement has been reached on wildlife trade which could mean that trading in illegal tiger parts will be treated as seriously as dealing in arms and drug trafficking. The agreement states the EU and tiger range countries will use INTERPOL to share intelligence against poachers and traders.

The news has implications for countries not acting on their people  illegally trading in snow leopard parts too. All parties to CITES have agreed to monitor the illegal trade in these endangered cats along with the tigers.

Without the co-operation of major enforcement communities it’s been difficult to make headway despite all snow leopard range countries having laws against the killing and sale of snow leopards.

“There have been many promises this week, but getting countries to actually use these new enforcement tactics will be the real test of the commitment to ending tiger trade, and saving the species”, said Debbie Banks, Senior Campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, and Chair of the Species Survival Network’s Big Cat Working Group.

“Time is running out for tigers and other big cats. Tiger range countries and consumer nations need to work together to reduce demand for their parts and stamp out the illegal tiger trade”, said Avinash Basker, Legal Consultant to the Wildlife Protection Society of India.

Tiger and snow leopard conservationists have another piece of weaponry now, but it will still require action and followup. This means more money for CITES, which is currently only funded to around $5m per year, a pittance when we consider all the flora and fauna that’s endangered and the support that developing nations especially, need to protect their endangered species.

Tracking snow leopards over 60km in Mongolia

March 23, 2010

Map showing Snow Leopard Trust Mongolia camp and movement of some of the collared cats. This is the most successful project ever to collar cats and research their behavior and movement over lengthy periods of time. Follow the adventures of the team and the cats on the SLT Blog. Map from SLT Blog.

This project is making snow leopard research history, no doubt about it. The Snow Leopard Trust continues to gather huge amounts of data with a new male cat collared in Mongolia on February 16th. The snow leopard, called M7 by the Trust team, has covered rugged terrain across mountains and made a kill. The team are having world breaking success in this project,  having collared 7 cats in total now and following them with the GPS collars for over a year.

Read more of the team’s adventures and follow in the footsteps of the collared snow leopards in the stark and remote south Gobi area of Mongolia on the  Snow Leopard Trust Blog.

Meet all the collared cats and read about their foibles and their movements on the Trust’s Blog here.

снежного барса – saving snow leopards of Kazakhstan

March 16, 2010

Snow Leopard Fund Kazakhstan

Oleg Loginov is a snow leopard zoologist, passionate about saving the last remaining endangered cats in Kazakhstan. Last month he contacted me with wishes for a Happy year of the Snow Leopard – something he’s working for.

Oleg lives in Ust-Kamenogorsk near Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan. He was formerly employed at Alma-Ata zoo in the capital. He’s the founder and director of the Snow Leopard Fund Kazakhstan which was launched in November 2009.

Kazakhstan map. Source Wikipedia.

I’m writing about Oleg because he is facing a huge battle. He’s passionate about saving snow leopards in his country. There was a time when snow leopards were numerous there but over the years, hunting, poaching and habitat loss have decimated the numbers. Estimates vary but it’s likely there are only 100 or so left.

Sadly not many people know or care about the snow leopard being endangered, and this includes many government officials. In fact some government officials still give snow leopard pelts as official gifts, thus sanctioning the killing of the rare cats. But Oleg is keen to research the remaining snow leopards and work with his fellow countrymen to save the animal from extinction in this region.

I’m going to write a bit about Oleg and his work over the next few months. It would be great to get support for him to help him in this important quest.

For more information (this site in Russian only) here.

Some interesting facts about Kazakhstan.
** It is ranked the 9th largest country in the world.
**I t is the world’s largest landlocked country.
** It is larger than Western Europe.

“Ghost of a chance” snow leopard painting

March 6, 2010

Michael Pape's "Ghost of a Chance."

I wanted to feature another excellent wild life artist, this time Canadian, Michael Pape. As a keen conservation supporter, Michael has created some magnificent works of art and through this work raised funds for organisations like the Canadian Endangered Species Fund, Ducks Unlimited Canada,  Snow Leopard Trust,  Amur (Siberian) Leopard, Tiger Conservation Program and the Halliburton Wolf Centre

His “Ghost of a Chance”, a serene work of a full prone snow leopard on soft white snow (see pic), won the 2009 Ducks Unlimited’s Canadian National Portfolio contest. Michael says of his works “my goal is to create fine art paintings that will touch the viewer in a way that will enrich their life through feeling, meaning and purpose.” See more on Michael’s website.

$100.00 from each of these Artist Proof Prints sold will go to The Snow Leopard Trust.

Michael Pape's "Solitary Watch."

Michael’s other work of a snow leopard, the enigmatic “Solitary Watch” is also for sale and again, part of the proceeds will go to the Trust.

Michael is also a signature member of the prestigious Artists for Conservation, whose goal is to bring awareness of animals and their environment through wildlife fine art.

What a beautiful way to help bring these and other animals to the attention of art lovers worldwide. And a generous way to support in their conservation. Well done, Michael.

Searching for Snow Leopards in February 2010

October 26, 2009
Jigmet Dadul, best snow leopard tracker in Ladakh. Photo kind permission of Snow Leopard Conservancy.

Jigmet Dadul, best snow leopard tracker in Ladakh. Photo kind permission of Snow Leopard Conservancy.

In 1997 I trekked in Hemis National Park, in Ladakh, in the northern Indian Himalayas. Along with 8 other volunteers and two snow leopard researchers (Dr Joe Fox and Dr Som Ale) we searched for scrapes, scat and any markings that told us that snow leopards still survived here in these awesome mountains after decades of being hunted for fur and body parts. We found a few signs but never saw the elusive cat. Not surprising as until recently even researchers working for decades in the wild seldom spotted these cats.
At that time the local villagers felt snow leopards were the enemy – the cats often killed domestic livestock if they weren’t able to get wild prey. Trekkers passing through these mountains had no idea that an animal called the snow leopard even existed let alone that this was one of its native habitats. There was huge uncertainty about their future. Could the beautiful snow leopard ever gain a claw hold for survival in these spectacular mountains?

But next February, in 2010 I’ll be there again…this time 12 years older, a bit rounder in the middle and in the dead of winter…yikes…

Cafe stop high on the trek. Parachute Cafe. Photo by kind permission of KarmaQuest.

Cafe stop high on the trek. Parachute Cafe. Photo by kind permission of KarmaQuest.

12 years later so much has changed. Thanks to the Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC) and other conservation groups the villagers today supplement their agricultural-based livelihoods by helping keep the snow leopard alive. They have home stay businesses where trekkers use traditional accommodation, eat local food and learn about the Ladakh way of life. Village women also have businesses tending parachute cafes for thirsty trekkers on high mountain trails. *

KarmaQuest Ecotourism and Adventure Travel, a US-based company has been running winter snow leopard tracking trips with one of the world’s most renowned snow leopard researchers, Dr Rodney Jackson, Director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy to this part of the world since 2005. And why go in winter? Well winter is the time snow leopards come down to lower altitude and offers the best chance of seeing these rare and endangered cats in the wild.

The other trip members and I will join the SLC-India staff on their winter monitoring activities, studying the snow leopard when it descends from the snowy mountaintops in search of food, studying prey species and the snow leopard’s habitat.

Solar cooking technology. Indian Himalayas. Photo by kind permission of Snow Leopard Conservancy.

Solar cooking technology. Indian Himalayas. Photo by kind permission of Snow Leopard Conservancy.

No doubt we’ll all be thinking about the 2007 winter group that was lucky enough to observe a snow leopard eating its kill for more than an hour. Thus far KarmaQuest group members have seen a snow leopard every year! Considering that less than 100 Westerners had seen a snow leopard in the wild before 2005, this is a phenomenal rate of success!  And all thanks to the years of study, tracking and conservation efforts by Dr. Jackson and his Ladakhi team, of which Jigmet Dadul – reputed to be the ‘best snow leopard tracker in Ladakh’– will be there to help us beat the odds.

There are still trip places available for this fantastic opportunity. Check out the website from the folks over at KarmaQuest  and talk to Wendy Lama, an Ecotourism Specialist who has been travelling and working in this part of the world for many years. This is the trek of a lifetime, it would be wonderful if I saw you there too. The deadline for signing up is November 30, 2009.
*Parachute cafes – my other half wondered “are they cafes where adventure parachutists drop in to for a tea or latte?” No….they portable cafés made out of – you guessed it – parachute material.

George Schaller working magic for snow leopards again

October 8, 2009
George Schaller with snow leopard cub. Photo by WCS.

George Schaller with snow leopard cub. Photo by WCS.

I’ve mentioned George Schaller many times on this blog – Ok, he’s my hero. He’s probably done more for snow leopard conservation than anyone else on the planet. George won the Indianapolis Prize in 2008 and during 2009 used the money  for snow leopard activities in China. Currently Vice President of Panthera and Senior Conservationist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, George visited China’s Qinghai Province in May 2009 to  help initiate snow leopard programs supported by Panthera, an organization whose mission is to conserve the world’s 36 species of wild cats.

The Indianapolis Prize has just reported on George’s work there. Most of his work was conducted in the Sanjiangyuan Reserve (“Source of Three Rivers Reserve”—Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong ), which covers nearly 58,000 square miles, primarily at elevations above 11,800 feet.  In addition to assessing snow leopard presence and threats, the trip provided Peking University Ph.D. student Li Juan with the training she needs to start a snow leopard study this year. George and Juan traveled more than 2,600 miles to evaluate potential study areas for the student’s research project, and George will continue to mentor Juan as she pursues her Ph.D.

While in Asia, George met with representatives from the Snow Leopard Trust and Shan Shui, one of the leading conservation organizations in China , to create a new collaborative snow leopard research and conservation program. These organizations signed a long-term agreement that will bring much needed expertise and funding to efforts to save snow leopards in China , where as much as 50 percent of the remaining wild population exists.

“George Schaller’s extensive research, fieldwork and training have been essential to saving snow leopards in regions of China ,” said Tom McCarthy , Director of Snow Leopard Programs for Panthera. “I can’t think of a better use of the Indianapolis Prize funds than teaching future generations the urgency and necessity of wildlife conservation.”

“The important aspects of this project for me,” added Michael Crowther, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoo, “are its collaborative and long-term nature.  It’s George’s innate ability to bring people together and to forge alliances that overcome the short-term problems of political or geographic conflicts in order to serve the greater good that makes him a hero for me, and for the world.  It seems he has again worked his magic for the snow leopards.”